There are so many reasons to love the end of the year! And I am not just talking about summer break! It is a time where all of your hard-work as a teacher finally prevails and your students graduate. This is a struggle only continuation school teachers know. The one of begging, pleading, and encouraging your students to not give up. Making those phone calls home to parents or even employers to let them know about the importance of their student finishing. If they just take one week off work they can work full-time all summer! It is one of letting students know that they can be successful after high school and helping them find a direction so they don't have the "Oh my god, what am I going to do now that nobody is telling me what direction to go and if I fail it will be because of me and nobody else, because I can't blame it on my teacher for not giving me my credits anymore" anxiety.
It is exhausting, but on graduation day it is so worth it!
This year I wanted to change up my usual end of the year routine and do some special things for my Seniors that I thought I would share. We always have had students participate in Prom and Gradnite, but we wanted to do some other things to celebrate them that were very successful!
First, the teacher that does our Yearbook every year, up until this year made it as a slideshow on a DVD so it can be less expensive, because as we all know, we work with some of the lowest income students in our community and we know price is important for participation and equity. This year she worked in TreeRing www.treering.com and we got a paper yearbook! I thought this was the best and bought one for $28. It was so worth it! I had all my students sign my yearbook and it was the encouragement I needed to hear after a particularly disappointing year. It reaffirmed that I did show my students the respect I wanted to convey, that my smile and good attitude did rub off on them and more than anything...they knew what I was doing. They let me know that my presence made them want to come to school and encouraged them go graduate. I did motivate my students and my conscious effort to smile a lot made a difference. Which is one of those funny things I made a goal for myself to do more since I am not a natural smiler...and I guess it made a difference.
The second thing that I always do and love is an end of the school year survey. I always have a couple of students that for lack of better words "stink", but for the most part I get really good feedback. This year I added a question to ask if students took the entrance exam to the local community college and what they placed into. I usually have a good number of students that place into English 101, well this year was not the case, but I have that data that shows we need to work on this to prepare students for their future. You can download it below. If you would like me to send you the pages or word version, just shoot me an email.
Third, was new for me this year. I wanted to do something to really visually motivate students to graduate. So I made a graduation board in my classroom and it started those conversations about who was graduating, what classes they needed to pass and how I could help them. When they graduated I put their photo in a card and wrote some inspiring words. It was one of those teary moments and something I will do every trimester from here on out.
What are some great things your school does to encourage and celebrate your students at the end of the year?
After my incident described in my previous post, I did two things: 1. I reached out for help and 2. I reflected on my job.
1. Reaching Out for Help
I reached out for help for a local addiction specialist that also happens to be a parent in the district that too is concerned about the drug use in our city. I wrote a desperate email asking for what to do, more making sure I didn't make things worse by saying the wrong thing to my student. And she simply said:
"You want to bring it up to him. Not in an attacking or judgmental way, but you can say,"Bob, I have noticed that you have changed a lot in the past few weeks. You seem more sleepy, and I saw the track marks on your arms. What is going on?" You can ask if he needs someone to talk to or what you can do to help him. Even if he isn't ready to hear you, he will keep it in the back of his mind. Can you call his parents? Do they care? I would start with him first, then move on to them. If you need me, let me know. Hopefully, he is wanting to get help. If so, call me and I can help you get him into treatment ASAP. With addiction, you have to move fast."
This is what I wanted to hear, because this was the non-judgmental way I did bring it up to my student. I didn't mention the bruises and marks on his arms, and now wish I would have. I called home, and left a message saying I was concerned. But, I don't think he goes home much and parents may have given up. Thus far he has not asked for help, but he has gotten a haircut and has been looking more "with it".
In addition to that I attended a yoga workshop for the students for a addiction counseling certificate program. I was reminded of the control I had in the form of a mantra. I have a great yoga teacher that teaches my personal practice regularly that says repeatedly "the only thing we can control is our breath". My experience of student addiction is a tragic case of a really great young adult that is an addict. I hope he kicks his habit and gives back to the world in a big way. But now, I can not make him stop using. I can give him resources when he does ask for help, and I can also let him know that he is liked and that I am here for him.
(*I really like to make sure my students know they are liked. I have a friend that always says she does not what her kids to just know she loves them, but that she really likes them...as a person. I took that to that to my classroom, and have found that is all most students really want, not to be cared for, but to know they are "likeable people". Although some students are hard to like off the bat, with much mentoring they can be much more likeable. I focus on that growth.)
Addiction is a problem country-wide. This is not a city-wide thing. As a student of mindfulness I follow Congressman Tim Ryan on social media and have watched his call to action about heroin and opioid use. Prescription drugs are just as fatal as street drugs. In a recent article my hometown describes one fatality a month due to heroin use. But not just heroin use, a heroin cocktail that is 10 times stronger than heroin. Ten times! This is a huge issue! Xanax use among teens is a horrible epidemic and the detox can be fatal. The thought of using Xanax with heroin is unconscionable.
So...what do you do? Resources are hard to find. I was really lucky to meet some great people who love our city and want what is best for kids. This was the advice I received. My new goal is to put together a binder full of community resources. From free pregnancy tests to local homeless shelters and everything inbetween. We don't have a resource like this at my school, and it is something I want in my classroom. Not just in the counselor's office. Just as I learned with addiction you have to move fast, I feel like with my situation it is best to give those resources quickly before a students gets in too deep. We have one counselor for 4 school sites. Sometimes that lack of time could put a student more at-risk. I hope to work on that project this summer and share soon.
What else can we do? We can be active in our community and voice our concerns. We can write our local Congressman and look for researched based practices to hinder these fatal highs. I wish I had more answers, but I know that I can't stay silent.
2. Reflecting on my job
We continuation school teachers have to take care of ourselves. After working with my addicted student, being more aware of others that are abusing potentially fatal drugs, all of the end of the year stuff I am responsible for: Prom, grad speakers, gradnite, WASC, getting students to graduate...I didn't think of myself at all. I was not conscious of the fact that our job is EMOTIONALLY DRAINING. Emotionally strenuous jobs take just as much of a toll physically as physically strenuous jobs. It just uses different muscles. When stressed (dealing with an emotionally difficult time) we tense up our facial muscles, neck, shoulders, and hips. I am sure at the end of the school year, everybody is feeling these aches and pains.
We have little control of what is going to happen day by day and moment by moment. We can have a great lesson plan, then have to scrap it because a student's life matter was more important. Every teacher faces these issues, but continuation schools have a concentration of these troubles faced in a community and we get the concentrated version of these issues.
What makes us different from other teachers is the amount of social skills and emotional learning we need to actively teach in our classroom, which is more than others. We have to relate our lessons back to our students lives. We have to model what an apology looks like and what it looks like to be nice, caring, and a team player. Along with an average 3rd grade reading level school-wide we have a ton of students with huge chips on their shoulder and we can help lift those. We have to model good decision making and what positive self talk looks like. We have to teach them that life is a series of choices and they are capable for making the right decisions.
So yes, my lesson plans on writing an engaging hook are important. So are my plans of teaching a growth mindset and citizenship. But also, the hardest part of teaching in a continuation school is the priority of self-care. A notion that many teachers take for granted. What is going to happen if I don't grade all those essays in one day...probably nothing. What is going to happen if I am more present with my kids and happy and less stressed? I have to make time for the things that make me better: yoga, meditation, massages, long walks. We can make excuses for anything. I am the best at it! I can think of 101 reasons I can't go to the gym. And even worse I am even better at justifying it to myself.
So if you take nothing else away from this post please take this:
Take care of yourself.
By first taking care of ourselves we can then take care of others. Remember, there is much we can not control, but one thing we can is our breath.
If you are interested in some of the articles I referenced:
5 ways stress hurst your body and what to do about it
Suspected drug overdoses killing about one a month in SCV
The saddest part about this article, is there are so many more articles just in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Congressman Tim Ryan Applauds Passage of Comprehensive Heroin and Prescription Drug Prevention Legislation
While in the midst of working on WASC, creating goals for my classroom, and desperately helping students graduate (more begging and pleading for them to finish) I have come to a bit of a crossroads. I have a student addicted to heroin. I had a feeling for awhile, but the student always wore long sleeves and hid the evidence. But today he wore a short sleeved shirt and the evidence was indisputable. It was like something you see in a movie. The "railroad tracks", the bruised and sore veins, the scratchy itchy skin that looks like an extreme case of eczema. I couldn't just not say something. So I did, and as I almost had a complete breakdown tip toeing around the issue practically begging this student to ask for help, they did not. They thanked me for the concern, but did not ask for help.
I can't help but be concerned about the number of addicts we graduate every year. This student does all of their work, which is quite good, they are here 80% of the time and does everything we ask of them. But, they are addicted to heroin.
I have one, student addicted to heroin, and this does not even look at the number of students that are addicted to prescription medicine. Xanax is the drug of choice in our neck of the woods. So after going through the virtual trenches reading post after post about addiction, heroin addiction, xanax addiction, withdrawal, side effects...I am just so overwhelmed with heartbreak.
I am supposed to teach students great literature, beautiful writing, but what does that matter when they are an addict and will graduate as an addict.
I have reached out for help and hope to give solutions and advice, but for now I am just going to practice much gratitude. Thank you to everyone that teaches continuation. Thank you to everyone making other people's lives better. Thank you to my supportive family, friends, and colleagues. Just, thank you for reading.
Music in the classroom is important. It is a way to orchestrate the climate of your classroom. We have a lot of research on using music in the classroom and what types of music to use. What much research has shown is that we need different types of music for different types of outcomes. The way I, and most teachers categorize the music that fits classroom needs are by reading/study music, calming music, and energizing music.
Reading and/or study music is best at 60-80 beats per minute. Thus mimicking the "thud lub" of our heart and our own body. This music should always be non-lyrical. Baroque music is best to study or read to. Some great playlists I have found are on Spotify and Amazon Prime Music. But album wise Vivaldi's Four Seasons is a classic that many people use.
Key to playing study music in the background: keep it low, just barely enough to be heard. This will keep the classroom from being stark silent, but will also keep students on pace and in a rhythm.
Here are some Spotify and Amazon Prime Playlist links that I like.
Classical Focus on Amazon Prime Music
Classical for Studying on Amazon Prime Music
*If your students are not experienced with classical music, you can wean them in by using Vitamin String Quartet or VSQ to ease in the music. They do instrumental covers of popular pop hits. Be mindful of the high tempo songs, they may not get the response you are looking for. Here are some VSQ playlists:
Vitamin String Quartet's Top Songs on Amazon Prime Music
VSQ artist page and playlist on Amazon Prime Music
60 bpm playlist on Spotify
As for energizing music, any pop station/playlist will do. Know that these songs will get students talking! Which is great if you are doing an interactive speaking activity. Here are some of my favorite playlists! Stay away from Elicit and try to gather the "clean" or radio edit version of popular songs.
Kid Friendly Pop Playlist on Amazon Prime Music
Clean pop even your kids can listen to playlist on Spotify
As for calming music, this is a delicate topic. You don't want music that is so calming students fall asleep, but after lunch you may want to play a few songs to get students to calm down, and transition into something next. Be mindful of what you are trying to do and the purpose of playing this music. Some of my favorite playlist are:
Classical for Meditation Playlist on Amazon Prime Music
Downtempo Yoga Playlist on Amazon Prime Music
Dinnertime Acoustics playlist on Spotify
Here is an interesting read with the studies of music at the suggested reading and bibliography of music.
Music and Learning: Integrating Music in the Classroom by Chris Boyd Brewer
And, as most creative with endeavors every neighborhood, school, classroom, teacher, and student are different. Be mindful of the how music shapes and molds your classroom. Choose music that works for you. It is ok to play the same music over and over. Don't always trust playlists online, try to make your own.
Fingers crossed these links work! If not, go ahead and search for them :)
Thanks to everyone that came to my presentation! Here are some handouts:
I created this presentation in 2011 and haven't shared it until now! I have updated it for the most part, but it has a lot of useful information for those looking for an understanding of ELD programs in California. We have new standards at this time, but the research and strategies are the same, or even more supported. Although I focus on alternative education, this is most useful for those in a comprehensive/traditional high school setting. Enjoy!
What a great article for everyone that works with at-risk youth! I would argue mindfulness would cure most of these emotional reactions. It is important to understand your emotions and to pause and breath before reacting in a negative way does not help any situation in the long term.
Teaching Adult Wary Children and Youth
by Michael McKnight
Get confused with all the Acronyms in Education? Me too. So, since we are working on our WASC document I made these posters to help me and the rest of my staff remember and refer to all of the acronyms we are thrown. It is our word wall (for teachers). When in education, you are always learning and word walls are research-based and work for everybody!
Always Running is a GREAT book to read with 11th or 12th grade Continuation School Students. My school is located close to the setting of this Los Angeles Coming of Age story. In Rodriquez' intro he states that this is the book that non-readers, read-I personally can confirm this is true. He also mentions that this is the most stolen book from libraries, I can attest to this too.
This memoir speaks to my students as they are able to compare themselves to the main character. although many of my students have not quite lived such a abused upbringing...some of my students have. This book is the perfect mix of high interest, medium - high text complexity, figurative language and imagery, and tons of opportunities for close readings.
A colleague and I decided to beef up our prior lesson plans and decided to include some Close Readings and a "Smarter Balance like" assessment of the close reading.
This was our first time, and we plan on tweaking a few things, but I thought it was worth sharing. We focused on the "The Long Run: New Introduction to Always Running" We felt that this gave a good overview of the Luis Rodriquez' writing style, intentions/audience, and the structure of the novel. Not only did it give students a taste of what to expect, but it explained the "why". Why it is an important story to write, why it is a necessary story to read, why this story is relevant to the world we live in today. Within these truths are beautiful metaphors, complex vocabulary and wonderful imagery that allows students to think and get buy-in...as if they needed extra buy-in, they were hooked in the first paragraph.
First we typed up important parts of the introduction for ourselves so we could write all over it. We needed a blank canvas to begin to really make a good lesson and unit plan. We highlighted key vocabulary and came up with a key concept. We bundled this concept with the documentary G-Dog, and since we are in Los Angeles we are lucky enough to take a field trip to Homeboys industries.
Key Concept: Adversity Essential Question: What does overcoming adversity look like?
Literary Elements we wanted to cover: writing style, figurative language, imagery, symbolism, repetition, citing evidence, and authors purpose
Direct Instruction Vocabulary for the Introduction: Adversity, thrive, accolades, insular-minded, nuance, transcendent.
View our Annotations and focus on Quotes from the Introduction. For students using a text book this can be done with Post-its, half sheet that refer back to paragraph numbers, or typing up of key paragraphs for students to write on. My close readings will be available on Teacherspayteachers.com really soon!
For more ideas on teaching Always Running I am going to post my lessons on Teacherspayteachers.com very soon! Stay tuned!